|This post started from the ideas of a two-part post written last year by Seth Gottlieb & Brice Dunwoodie. It made me think about a list of tools and techniques that content editors could use whilst editing in a collaborative environment. The post is a point of reference for those involved in the daily running and development of sites that are continually evolving.
Modern content management systems are increasingly modelled on service-orientated architecture (SOA). This is where content is treated as an individual entity, that can be can be placed anywhere and that may be read by machines as well as humans.
It offers true adaptability and allows an editor to change entire layouts, create new sections and change the architecture of the site very easily. This, inevitably could affect usability and profitability as they change elements on the page.
The following principles are elements that help define the user experience online. Using Seth and Brice’s 6 points as a basis, I have elaborated and expanded it to 7 principles.
Visual design to aid engagement – the use of images that are contextually related have an immediate impact on a user, they will encourage a user to remain and engage with other elements of the site. By placing clear calls to action in the right areas conversions will increase. Scrolling of a page can also be assisted by ensuring that the visual hierarchy of the page elements is observed and applied through the interface design.
Extract the wisdom of crowds – honesty and transparency with the user base will be appreciated and an avoidance of marketing spiel is an absolute must. Any facility to allow user-generated tagging that will enrich your own taxonomies will be advisable as this enables your taxonomies to reflect the user base. A combination of a top down site structure and bottom-up user generated tags is a preferable arrangement. Have an in-depth look at user generated tags here…
Collaboration is key – At all times encourage users to participate, communicate around subjects and allow collaboration with each other to help form communities around content areas. Those people who do participate are often vocal members of their own communities, and often are key workers, intelligent and influential. Give the tools to the users to allow flexible interaction with each other and the site owners. Trust the crowd, and do not abuse that trust by trying to sell, or market to them uninvited.
The interface must be clear and simple – AJAX technology has meant that the interaction that a user has on a site is no longer a page by page journey. This increase in sophistication of the interface has also seen a simplification in the user experience. A careful balance between features and simplicity must be struck with quick server response times.
Content objects are as important as pages – The elements on a page need to be considered as individual entities as well as the overall presentation of your content, how it is laid out and prioritised. These factors impact on the ability of your user to find, scan, and consume content. In effect we are not just publishing on one display surface (a web page) but offering multiple channels to view our content through RSS and AJAX technologies. This means that the content will appear in a variety of areas beyond your immediate control, although the content displayed can be changed
|Content exists on multiple platforms that are adaptable– The ideal is to make your service interfaces standard, flexible, lightweight and multi-device friendly. The content you provide has gone beyond the browser|
Know your user better than they know themselves
- Allowing access to unreleased material ( and increasing your user base)
- Let them publish exclusives on their blogs/media channels
- Set up user pools for beta testing
This will help build trust, and that is part of the online experience that can never been understated. Gerry McGovern states;
Remember, your gut instinct behaviour on your website is probably very different to the gut instinct behaviour of your readers. That’s because you know your website inside out. Most of your customers hardly know it at all. To your potential customers it’s a totally new experience.
Good self-service design is about focusing on the essentials. It’s about stripping away everything that is unnecessary. It is about limited choice rather than endless choices. It’s about understanding the essence of what someone needs to do to complete a task.
Web management is about understanding how people interact with content. You won’t learn to become an effective web manager by sitting behind your desk. Get out there and wear out some shoe leather.
Firstly lets start with the business, in all their different forms, from author to editor to publisher to sales director. We need to be aware of who they are and how they will use the system. There could be several different user roles in a CMS:
- Contributors: a person who offers information to be displayed on the site.
- Authors: a person who writes content for the site.
- Editors: a person who reviews written content and suggests or makes changes. An editor can approve or deny the content to be published.
- Publishers: a person who sets the content to be published (posted) on the website.
- Translators: this is a person who translates a piece of content into one or more different languages.
Then look at our users, they used to be consumers, now they are also contributors, enable channels for them to do this easily, with the minimum of effort. Encourage user profiles and accounts, thereby adding responsibility to their comments, as they become more accountable.
Finally think of the machines reading our content the power of RSS and all the readers and display surfaces that will show the syndicated content. Be wise in your metadata mark up when supplying this type of information and realise the pervasive importance of this area of the digital medium.
A task based approach is a more fluid and agile way of maintaining the system and it is generic, independent of different market cultures and political elements. Rather than detail a workflow that may be specific to the culture that the users work in, try to propose tasks that will be highlighted and grouped and that can be tackled by a multitude of users.
Micro changes and Macro Effects
Its ok to experiment as long as you test and measure the effects of changes and that designs can be rolled back to previous iterations. The tenants of good design, have not changed but there is more flexibility in the new CMS to test small changes, often. There is a need to promote the idea that failure is acceptable as long as lessons are learnt and enhancements made as a direct result from experimentation.
The types of change and learning needed;
- Changes in content – the different types of task need to be realised and ensure that the team is task based not workflow based.
- Visual changes – team must know that moving elements on a page may have an effect on user engagement, page impressions or conversions.
- Structural changes – Team need to realise the importance of information architecture for site structure, authority and the impact on SEO.
- Changes to metadata – Team needs to know how changes to the content of metadata will have an effect on the SEO and also how information is packaged for syndicated content in RSS.
Tools and techniques for designing and testing content
Measuring and testing user behaviour
- A/B and Multivariate testing – ideally all newly designed pages, or pages that have had major changes need to be tested.
- Personas and user stories – User stories need to be created when a new page is designed to ensure that the personas of the site are catered for.
- Analytics – conversion points will need to be agreed upon. The analytics need to be in place so that you can measure success of the page but also you need to be sure of what constitutes success. Is it more sign-ups, more subscriptions or more feed subscribers?
Defining design of page elements
- Paper Prototyping – before changes are made, work out the layout on paper and communicate with other team members, it allows honest critique and rapid iteration. It also keeps the team from being married to one solution
- Pattern library – use design patterns to help formulate ideas and use designs that have been utilised elsewhere in other markets
- Taxonomy and site structure – taxonomy and controlled vocabulary needs to be referred to whenever site structures are changed and this need to be reflected in these two documents. Managing taxonomies is a core part of website management
- Gauging Usability
- Heuristic evaluation checklist – offers the ability to look at any page and define the areas that either pass or fail usability requirements
- Ethnography or beta testing – either observe users in person and record their behaviour or create user groups who are in dialogue with the site manager and feedback their experiences in using designated test areas.
- Usability capture software – observe and record users from another location using software that records and analyses the user behaviour
(Thanks to Rob Fisher for this section)
SEM – Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a holistic term used to describe the practice of promoting websites by increasing their visibility within search engines. The term, SEM in recent years has been increasingly associated with only PPC and Paid Inclusion.
PPC – Pay Per Click is an advertising model used on many Search Engines to distribute contextually relevant advertising against a set of search results. The PPC advertising model is one of the most trackable forms of advertising available.
SEO – Search Engine Optimisation is the practice of promoting websites through organic search results. SEO looks to package website content in such a way as to make it easily accessible for users and search engines crawlers as possible.
Landing Pages – The creation of landing pages is an SEO technique used to target terms within the Keyword Footprint. Landing pages are used to aggregate or signpost links to themed content and are designed to act as alternative points-of-entry to a website.
A holistic approach
The individual elements make the job of managing the website become easier as these techniques give a full picture of the site users and also their resulting behaviour online. The different methods help follow the principles of being user centred without the teams being bound up with process.
What the techniques deliver should give the teams enough knowledge that allows them to design, test and publish content with confidence.